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I've been up here all year and I've learned a lot. I know how the townspeople are and what they think of you men.
AT HIS FIRST TEAM MEETING WITH THE GREEN BAY PACKERS
When I came to Green Bay in 1959, before we went to training camp we ran and reran the films of all the Packers' games of the previous two years. We graded every player and then we sat down to see what our primary needs were.
The Green Bay Packers had a proud history. They were one of the thirteen original franchises in the National Football League's first season of 1921. And they were the only small-town team to survive the Great Depression of the 1930s. Founded and coached by Earl "Curly" Lambeau, who played at Notre Dame under Knute Rockne, the early Packers were known for their successful implementation of the forward pass—and for their winning ways.
But after World War II the team fell on hard times. And by 1958 they had become an NFL joke. The Packers were a laughingstock, acknowledged as the worst team in the league. NFL players referred to Green Bay as "Siberia" and feared being traded there. College seniors prayed they wouldn't be drafted by the Packers.
The hometown fans hadn't seen so much as a .500 season since 1947 andwere consistently embarrassed by the team's shoddy performances. It seemed as though every person in Wisconsin was complaining about the Packers. In the club, itself, there was an overwhelming air of defeatism. Many players dressed sloppily, showed up late to practice, were always griping and mouthing off. Some had little respect for authority and actually took themselves out of games and put themselves back in whenever they felt like it. In 1958, the team finished 1-10-1. It was their eleventh straight losing season. And the entire year had been capped by a humiliating 56-0 home loss to the Baltimore Colts—a disaster that was televised throughout the Midwest.
It was at this point that management fired their head coach and began to take a serious look at Vince Lombardi. Red Blaik gave his former protégé a great recommendation, as did Paul Brown of the Cleveland Browns. Even George Halas, of the rival Chicago Bears, said: "He'll be a good one." Wellington Mara at first balked and then relented at the thought of his friend leaving the Giants. But Mara knew Vince was ready and would be a great head coach—and told the Packers as much. So the executive board gave the nod to Lombardi but, in so doing, offered him one of the lowest salaries for a head coach in the entire league. Vince, however, graciously accepted the offer. He realized that since the team wasn't winning, they weren't making any money, either. The board, though, also compensated Lombardi by making him general manager. If the team did well, he also would do well. It was a good arrangement, because he'd have complete say over how he built and ran the team. And so forty-five-year-old Vince Lombardi—the Packers' fourth head coach in nine years—took over the team for the 1959 season.
Immediately after formally accepting the job, Vince drove to his church and spent much of the day praying. The next morning he flew to Green Bay and met with members of the executive board, with whom he discussed his vision for the team. Then Lombardi conducted his first briefing with members of the Wisconsin press—but he cautioned them. "I'm no miracle worker," he said humbly.
In preparing to coach the Green Bay Packers back to respectability, Lombardi began quietly. Not only did he look within himself and pray for spiritual guidance; he set about carefully studying the team he had just inherited.
Before meeting with any of the players, he closely scrutinized films of previous Packer games. As a matter of fact, during his first three months as coach, Lombardi reviewed more than twenty thousand feet of film. "From morning until night and week after week," he said, "... we ran and reran the films of all the Packers' games of the previous two years."
This was the very same method of preparation he had learned at West Point from Coach Red Blaik—who later recalled that he and Vince had watched game films until "our brain lobes felt as worn as the film sprocket holes looked." Lombardi had also used the technique when he first became an assistant coach with the New York Giants. Back then, he hung a sheet up in the den of his house, set up a projector, and watched film of the Giants' offense all day and all night until, as he said, "it began to drive Marie and the kids crazy, and I had to take it down to the basement." And he would do the same thing many years later in his career after accepting a job with the Washington Redskins—whose players were so ill-prepared that they were "always making up plays in the huddle."
Lombardi's actions when studying the game films were both industrious and meticulous. He not only wanted to study each player; he also wanted to familiarize himself with every defense and offense on his team and in the league. "On each play in every game I'd run the projector back and forth three or four times with seven or eight people in mind," he once wrote, "and then I'd run it back again to see what the three or four others were doing."
He also took extensive notes and, on yellow writing pads, charted each play for both offense and defense. Then he organized everything into an orderly and easily accessible filing system. Next, Lombardi graded every player, wrote a report on each of them, compared reports, and then made judgments as to whether each player should stay or go. "You have to start somewhere," Lombardi remarked of his meticulous study and preparation. "When you start to coach you coach the system you played, but you begin almost immediately to discard what doesn't fit you or your material, and you look for what does."
Once he learned everything he could possibly learn about his new team, Lombardi began to evaluate the situation in terms of strengths and weaknesses. He deduced that the Packers were strong in a few areas, notably at fullback, offensive end, tackle, center, and linebacker. But the weaknesses, he concluded, were almost overwhelming. As a matter of fact, Vince was beside himself when he realized that nearly the entire Packer defense was substandard. "We need help on both the defensive line and the defensive backfield," he lamented. On offense, he concluded that the guards were weak, the halfbacks were slow, and there was a "puzzle" at quarterback. "I think I have taken on more than I can handle," he told his secretary one day. "Will you pray for me and help me?"
Lombardi did note, however, that there were a couple of very strong players on the team—men who had a chance to be leaders on the squad and stars in their own right. On offense, he described Forrest Gregg as the "one professional on our team." Lombardi was also extremely impressed with running back Paul Hornung, who had been a quarterback at Notre Dame. When Vince saw how well Hornung could throw the ball, he naturally began to consider extensive use of the halfback option—just as he had done with a New York Giant running back named Frank Gifford.
In addition to immersing himself in the technical details of the football team, Lombardi began a personal marketing and public relations campaign. He traveled throughout Wisconsin promoting the team and hawking season ticket sales, which, quite understandably, had been extremely sluggish. He strategically sought to bring a sense of pride back to the Packers. So he called on public officials and industry executives in both Green Bay and Milwaukee and asked for their support.
And Lombardi made countless speeches on behalf of the team, addressing audiences both large and small. On one hand, he'd tell his listeners that "this is not a Green Bay football team but a Wisconsin team." On the other, he'd play on the Packers' small-town image as sentimental favorites: "It's the old David verses Goliath theme," he'd say. "They all want us to beat the big towns." And he'd try to fire up supporters by letting them know that he intended for the Green Bay Packers to be winners. "There is no substitute for victory!" exclaimed the forceful new head coach. "We shall play every game to the hilt with every ounce of fiber we have in our bodies."
After reviewing the films and barnstorming the state, Lombardi began meeting with the Packer players—one-on-one and in groups. He let them know that not only had he been evaluating their past individual performances, but he also had been listening to the fans. "I've been up here all year and I've learned a lot," he said. "I know how the townspeople are and what they think of you men."
And clearly, Vince had no doubts that he was going to succeed. To one veteran, he said privately (and wryly): "Just stay with me. I'm gonna build a dynasty here ... heh, heh, heh."
Our single most important public is our own employees—our team. For without a skilled, coordinated group of talented people behind us, we haven't a chance in the world of attaining success.
You were chosen to be a Green Bay Packer.
TO HIS TEAM ON THE FIRST DAY OF PRACTICE
No! No! Together! Together! Not like a typewriter.
TO THE PACKERS DURING DRILLS,
AS HE STOOD ON THE BACK OF THE BLOCKING SLED
Build Your Team
"I'm looking for a defensive backfield coach," Vince Lombardi said to thirty-one-year-old Norb Hecker.
"Well, I'm looking for a job," Hecker replied. "I played eight years of pro ball and did a little coaching up in Canada."
Over the course of the conversation, Lombardi did not seem at all concerned that the young man he was interviewing had almost no coaching experience. Rather, he inquired mostly about his family and personal background.
"He never asked me about my philosophy or theory of football," remembered Hecker. "He never put me at the blackboard. I found out later he'd gotten some good recommendations about me from coaches I'd played for."
"The job's yours if you want it," Lombardi told Hecker on the phone the next day.
That's a pretty good example of how quickly Vince Lombardi went about assembling his coaching staff. Along with Hecker, Phil Bengtson, a seasoned and successful coach with the San Francisco 49ers, was tabbed to coach the defensive squad. For the offense, Lombardi chose John (Red) Cochran to coach the backfield, Tom Fears to direct the receivers, and Bill Austin for the front line. As it was, Lombardi built a staff with both unproven talent and veteran experience. And they were quite an energetic and youthful group at that, averaging thirty-seven years in age. Bengtson, at forty-five, was the oldest, while Austin, only twenty-nine was the youngest.
From the outset, assistant coaches learned that Vince Lombardi did not mince any words. "I demand the best from all of you," he told them. "I'm a perfectionist, and there's absolutely no excuse for anything other than that." And when he sat them all down together to review game films and discuss the players, he'd frequently bark out comments like: "That man can't play in the NFL!" or "Some of our defensive backs are ducking tackles, actually ducking tackles. We want men here, not just players. Players are a dime a dozen."
Along those lines, Lombardi made clear the type of people he wanted on his team. He wanted players with desire, he told the coaches, a quality, as he said, that "you can't examine them for ... [except] under game conditions or perhaps in contact work." He wanted players who ached to get back into action, who "are aggressive even when it hurts ... who have the pride to make any sacrifice to win."
"Some guys play with their heads," he noted. "That's okay. You've got to be smart to be number one in any business. But more important, you've got to play with your heart, with every fiber of your body. If you're lucky enough to find a guy with a lot of head and a lot of heart, he's never going to come off the field second."
The coaching staff set about first building the Packer defensive squad at Lombardi's direction. "There is nothing more discouraging to a team," he said, "than to watch the opposition run up and down the field at will against you." Regarding individual players, he was looking for men, in particular, who possessed "knowledge, confidence, and self-control." These were required qualities for the defense because, as he said: "Defensive football is a game of abandon, and you have to have the kind of players who will be able to play with abandon, the hell-for-leather types."
By trading players and draft choices, Lombardi built a completely new defensive front four in a relatively brief period of time. He picked up Henry Jordan, Bill Quinlan, and Willie Davis from the Cleveland Browns and combined them with Packer veteran Dave (Hawg) Hanner to create one of the best front lines in the National Football League. They were light in weight but strong and quick—strong enough to stop the run, quick enough to put pressure on the passer.
Lombardi also put together a formidable defensive backfield that averaged six feet three inches, and 230 pounds. Like the front line, the backfield had strength enough to handle runners and speed enough to cover pass receivers. Emlen Tunnell, a veteran defensive back, was purchased immediately from the New York Giants. With time, Lombardi added such powerful individuals as: Ray Nitschke at middle linebacker, Dan Currie and Bill Forrester at outside linebackers, and Willie Wood, Hank Gremminger, Jesse Whittenton, and Herb Adderly for the secondary.
On offense, Lombardi sought players with intelligence and versatility. "Versatility in an offensive lineman is a plus," he said, "and on my time a must, because you never know when an injury will strip you of one of your linemen." He required "intelligence on the part of all the players" because "the team that cannot execute properly after an audible is called is in deep trouble."
Accordingly, the Packers made early key trades for guard Fred (Fuzzy) Thurston from Baltimore and running back Lew Carpenter from Cleveland. And the Packers gave up a high draft choice to the St. Louis Cardinals for veteran quarterback Lamar McHan. Lombardi liked perennial second-string Packer quarterback Bart Starr—and almost started him. But he opted, instead, to trade for and then start McHan because, psychologically, Starr represented the losing past. A new veteran quarterback, Lombardi reasoned, offered a new beginning with new hope.
In general, though, and strategically, the Packers offense was built around the incredibly versatile and talented Paul Hornung, who did just about everything—including running, passing, receiving, and kicking both field goals and extra points. Lombardi realized that Hornung was not only unusually gifted but also a player who had tremendous drive and courage. He was the kind of player who did what it took to win and therefore, thought Lombardi, would inspire other players on the team to do likewise.
On the other hand, Lombardi cut players who he considered to have losing attitudes. "I don't want any bad apples in my organization," he told a friend. "I get one apple in the bushel over here and the rest of them will start rotting, too."
An early case in point was All-Pro Billy Howton—the second-leading pass receiver in Green Bay's history. Howton had a reputation as being difficult, so Lombardi used him as trade bait, sending him to the Cleveland Browns for Quinlan and Jordan. Similar trades were made or players were cut from the roster "not because they couldn't play football but because they weren't made for my system," explained Lombardi. Others were let go because the coaches felt they would not make the sacrifices necessary to win and "we had to make examples of them."
"I'd rather have a player with fifty percent ability and one hundred percent desire," Lombardi explained, "because the guy with one hundred percent desire you know is going to play every day, so you can make a system to fit into what he can do. The other kind of guy—the guy with one hundred percent ability and fifty percent desire—can screw up your whole system because one day he'll be out there waltzing around."
Once Lombardi felt he had found a player with 100 percent desire, he took care to give that individual a special personal touch. He called Hornung, for example, in the spring of 1959—months before training camp began. "I've been looking at the films, and you're my left halfback," he said. Hornung later recalled that that phone call "was the start of the eight best years of my life ... Till he [Lombardi] got there, the whole place was so disorganized that, unless I'd been traded, I would've quit football in a year or two."
"Come on out here, Emlen; you can help me out," Emlen Tunnell recalled Lombardi saying to him on the phone. "Nobody else wanted me then.... [And] I didn't want to let him down." To Willie Davis, Vince said, "We think you can help us." And veteran Willie Wood termed the first conversation he had with Vince Lombardi as "the most important conversation I ever had with him. He told me that the Packers had initiated the trade, that they felt that I could help ..., that I was the kind of football player he was looking for."
Both Wood and Davis noted that Lombardi offered them $1,000 more than they were currently making. (They made about $10,000 a year at the time.) Said Wood: "I knew that here was a man who was willing to compensate me before I played one ball game for him.... This was a man I wanted to play for."
Once he had his core group of players and coaches assembled, Lombardi set about focusing on teamwork and building team spirit. "You were chosen to be a Green Bay Packer," he told them. And the players took it to heart. "He made it sound like something unique and wonderful," remembered Willie Wood. "We felt that we were a select bunch of people," said Ray Nitschke.
After team dinners, Lombardi had everyone sing songs together. And he instituted one of the first dress codes in professional football where everyone was required to wear dress shirts and ties on trips and at meals—topped off by a green sports coat that had an impressive gold Packer emblem on the breast pocket. "A game day is a business day," he explained—and everyone should dress and act like professionals and champions both "on the field and off."
Teamwork was a prominent word in the vocabulary of Vince Lombardi as a head coach. He wanted the Packers to think of themselves as a unit. He wanted them to possess "selfless teamwork and collective pride," which, as he said, would "accumulate until they have made positive thinking and victory habitual."
"Teamwork is the primary ingredient of success," he'd often say to the players. "People who work together will win, whether it be against complex football defenses or the complex problems of modern society."
Offensive tackle Forrest Gregg recalled that Lombardi "liked the ideas of all the coordination of a vast number of human beings to make a running game work—the interdependence of players." He simply had to have "people mesh and gear smoothly." Moreover, Lombardi put these principles to work in games by running plays that required "all eleven men to play as one to make it succeed." For him, touchdowns were "the result of each man ... carrying out his assignment perfectly."
When on the practice field, he pounded into them his idea of "teamwork through participation." He liked to "climb up on the back" of "the seven-man blocking sled [as] the offensive line makes the first charge."
"No! No!" he'd holler, before the sled even came to a rest. "Together! Together! Not like a typewriter."
Over the years, Vince focused on keeping his close-knit crew strong. "Our single most important public is our own employees—our team," he said. "For without a skilled, coordinated group of talented people behind us, we haven't a chance in the world of attaining success."
With that principle in mind, he switched players to new positions in an attempt to get the best eleven men into the lineup. He traded aging veterans a year or two before they were over the hill. He brought in new promising draft choices or veterans to shore up key weaknesses. And always, he took time for that "personal touch." In 1965, for instance, when the Packers traded for veteran placekicker Don Chandler, Lombardi sat down with him and went over the whole team, both offense and defense. "He discussed the strengths and weaknesses, the changes he was planning, the problems he'd had in 1964 ...," recalled Chandler. "He felt if he'd had a good kicking game, he'd have won the championship."
And in 1969, when Lombardi started all over again with the Washington Redskins, he began virtually the same way he had with the Packers ten years earlier. He hired an offensive backfield coach because of good recommendations. He retained two members of the previous coaching staff because they knew the team personnel and could advise him accordingly. And he brought along a couple of coaches he'd previously worked with, including Bill Austin for the offensive line and Lew Carpenter for the receivers. Lombardi even enticed veteran Sam Huff, who was a player back in Vince's days with the Giants, out of retirement. Huff served as a player-coach and stated to the press that "the only reason I came back to pro football was to be with him."
And Lombardi also traded for or purchased outright six former Packer players. When asked why he had brought to Washington so many of his former coaches and players, Vince was straightforward with his answer. "[The team] must bend or already be molded to your personality," he said. "I've got to have men who bend to me."
Vince Lombardi not only found men who would "bend" to him; he found men who would take his advice and play as a team for him. "The year before he got there," recalled Packer receiver Max McGee, "everybody was playing for his own contract and doing what would individually satisfy himself. But after Lombardi came, everybody on the squad worked for the team. I'm convinced of it."
And for all the success he attained, Vince would always credit the way the players worked together. "It's the team!" he'd stress. "Teamwork is what the Green Bay Packers were all about. They didn't do it for the individual glory. They did it because they loved one another."
That's why Lombardi worked so hard year in and year out to pull a strong team together, to choose "100 percent" players with desire and courage, to find those who'd work with one another. That's why at the end of every training camp, after all the final cuts had been made, Vince would turn to his assistant coaches and, with a sigh of relief and a tinge of pride, say: "Gentlemen, we have our team now."
Excerpted from Run to Win by Donald T. Phillips. Copyright © 2001 by Donald T. Phillips. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
|Part I||Starting Out|
|2||Build Your Team||18|
|3||Know Your Stuff||25|
|4||Develop a Game Plan||32|
|5||Encourage Innovation, Imagination, and Creativity||37|
|Part II||Building Trust|
|7||Treat People As Individuals||54|
|9||Keep Things Simple||67|
|10||Constantly Inspire and Motivate||72|
|12||Learn, Teach, Practice||90|
|13||Focus on Physical Fitness, Discipline, and Mental Toughness||98|
|14||Run to Daylight||109|
|15||Have the Will to Win||116|
|16||Have the Courage to Lead||129|
|17||Control Your Darker Side||135|
|18||Preach Love, Family, and Heart Power||144|
|19||Be Willing to Pay the Price for Success||153|
|20||Make a Commitment to Excellence||160|